Sunday, November 11, 2001

The Washington Capitals snapped their winless streak last night with a 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers, and yet the biggest news coming out of MCI Center involved a loss for the Caps.
The club learned that Calle Johansson, arguably the best all-around defenseman the Caps have ever had, will be lost for the season with a torn rotator cuff. Johansson, 34, will have surgery on his left shoulder within the next week and then begin a recovery period that will last from six to eight months.
The surgery also will prevent him from appearing in the Salt Lake City Olympic Games for Team Sweden, which had named him captain.
Caps owner Ted Leonsis said the injury to Johansson opens up spots for younger players, but he did not rule out a trade for an experienced defenseman.
“Great teams have to figure out ways to win,” Leonsis said. “Calle is really a tough loss because he is such a complete player, a steadying force in the locker room.”
Leonsis said he talked to Johansson last night and assured the player he was in the team’s long-term plans. Leonsis also said he felt injured right wing Jaromir Jagr was close to returning after missing time with a strained knee.
That wasn’t the only good news that came out of MCI Center last night. For a change, the Caps didn’t give away a game.
The struggling Caps scored twice in the first six minutes and went on to throttle Atlanta to snap their winless streak at six (0-5-1). The Thrashers have lost seven in a row and are 0-5-1 at MCI Center.
The shutout went to Olie Kolzig, his first of the season and 22nd of his career.
It was a far different ending for the Caps than the one they experienced Thursday night, when they led Carolina 2-0 with 16 minutes left but collapsed and lost 3-2.
This is not to say Washington played a perfect game, because it didn’t. For instance, the Caps took several unnecessary penalties for which the team might have paid dearly except that the Thrashers have the worst road power play in the league, scoreless in dozens of tries.
Washington also let the visitors use Kolzig as a target, giving the goalie little protection. Goalies like a lot of work, as opposed to having little to do, because they fear they could lose their concentration. However, the Caps were outshot 26-13 after two periods, an indication that the Washington skaters were being generous.
Jeff Halpern broke a 16-game scoring drought when he lifted a shot into the top of the net at 5:39 just after a power play ended. The goal was set up by a great pass from Adam Oates, his 972nd career assist.
It became 2-0 just six seconds later when Chris Simon scored his first of the season on a slap shot from the left circle that zipped in over goalie Norm Maracle’s left shoulder. The six-second span tied a club record for the fastest two goals.
Ulf Dahlen’s seventh of the season came at 5:33 of the second period, an example of a hesitation paying off. Wing Joe Sacco waited for Dahlen to get clear before he passed, and Dahlen held on and waited for Maracle to commit before he shot.
Meanwhile, the news about Johansson didn’t come as a complete surprise. The defenseman originally was injured in the second game of the season when Boston defenseman Kyle McLaren hit him with horrific force that sent both men into the boards at FleetCenter. Johansson finished the game but missed five others as he tried to recover from the injury. McLaren tore chest muscles on that play and has yet to return.
At one point, when Johansson was trying to practice and stay in shape, he was so immobile that he needed help just to get his uniform on.
Playing hurt is nothing new to Johansson. He broke a hand last season in training camp but never missed a game because of it. He walks with what seems a permanent limp that comes from sore ankles, bruised from blocking slap shots. And he has had chronic back problems for years, an ailment that has only occasionally kept him out of games.
The defenseman has played in 901 Washington games, second only to Kelly Miller’s 940. He is the team’s career leader for defensemen in points (459) and assists (349). He was acquired from Buffalo in 1989 for defenseman Grant Ledyard and goalie Clint Malarchuk.
Defensemen Jakub Cutta and Dean Melanson made their debuts for the Caps this season, filling in for injured players.

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